It was a beautiful day, one spring day in 2000. I was living in the only two-story rental house on a street in Santa Ana, and some of the neighbor girls clambered up the rickety wooden stairs and played on the porch. From that view, it seemed you could see for miles. Whatever a mile is to a little girl. Three, four, five houses or more, all the way down the street. Bird's eye view.
I didn't notice at first, that I had some visitors on the porch, and it really didn't matter that they had chosen my second story view to enact whatever scene they were playing at the time. The community had neighborhood watch, and what with all the professional housewives on the scene, I was pretty sure someone had a clue where the kids could be found. As for me, I kept to myself.
Single white girl in a Latino neighborhood, and living in the tallest house on the block. For one of the last peaceful periods in the lives of many of us, my status as a respected neighbor was secure. Someone kept a rooster, who gave the alert when it was time to wake up. We all woke up together, regardless of who was on what shift. It was just that kind of neighborhood. Nice. Safe. Pleasant.
I didn't notice the doll until nearly dark. One of the neighbor girls must have left her. Little baby doll, wrapped up in a striped brown blanket, tan skin and eyes that close when she lay down. I felt sure the girl would miss her. But, in the afternoon's adventure, would she remember where she left her? Surely, I did not know how to return the doll, and it was getting dark. I chose to bring her inside.
Silly, I thought at the time. It's a doll. A child's toy. Plastic, fabric and made in a factory no doubt. Not an expensive doll, but what child cares the price of her toys? I felt strange, me who was adult enough to have my own house, bringing a child's baby doll in out of the darkness. What would it matter to a toy? A toy has no soul, no real life. Maybe I should have left it on the porch, to be found tomorrow.
But the little girl did not return. Did she forget her doll? Did she forget where she had been? Was she upset when she returned to her own home and realized the doll was gone? I had no clue where she lived, nor did I know who might have a clue. Although most of the families had English speakers in the home, the houses were secure behind tall wrought iron fences, with large dogs in the yards.
I never had a baby doll as a child. My mother did not particularly believe in such things. A girl should pursue her own interests; women can have careers these days. We don't need to be attached to a baby when we're only just out of babyhood ourselves, as little girls. I, the serious-minded child, wanted to be a paleontologist. My toys were dinosaurs, model kits, and shrink-and-grow devices.
A baby doll? Not in my mother's house, no not mine. The first baby doll I ever touched, in my entire life, was that little girl's toy, left on my porch in the Spring of 2000. Maybe I should have taken it to my Latina neighbor's house. She had a little girl. Maybe she would know who lost it. Or, perhaps, best to leave it as is. Why alert the mothers in the neighborhood when there was no safety issue at all?
Not having much experience with little girls (except the little girl within me) nor with mothers, families and their kids toys, I just decided to let the doll stay inside my house until I heard more. And, actually, I never did hear more. Maybe the girl got another baby doll. Maybe she decided to play with other toys. Who knows? Maybe she wanted a career when she grew up; to have a job like I did.
I'll never know. Because she never came back to play on my porch. The baby doll I rescued from one night in the dark never left my home. Somehow, when it was time to move to another rental, the doll got packed in a box with the rest of my stuff. I had help packing. I don't remember packing her myself, and when I unpacked my boxes, there she was. Just like when she was left on my porch.
I wasn't on the same street anymore. I was not in a house either. I was in a sweet little apartment with a yard, some dirt, and a hose bib. A place where I could let my dog play, grow a garden, and have some privacy. Me, my dog, my stuff...and some little girl's baby doll. A doll that she, apparently, thought so little of that she left her on a stranger's porch. And not just any stranger. A white girl.
At this point, the doll couldn't be returned to the old neighborhood. If I didn't know who to talk to then, I sure didn't know now. Although, sometimes, I still drive through those streets in that part of town. It still feels just as nice, just as safe, just as much like I'm a lighter shade of the same families that lived there for so many years. And why not? Am I not a little girl's future child's Godmother?
Today I noticed that I've had that baby doll for 18 years. She's not a little girl anymore. She's a woman in her twenties. I'll bet she's a beauty and married to someone who loves her. She probably has a little girl of her own. Maybe a few of them. I wish her well, despite that I didn't ever have kids myself. Because, actually, in a spiritual sense I guess I did have a kid. A little girl. Someone to love.